New food hub will stop Cambridge children going hungry
A community food hub that will help to prevent children from going hungry in Cambridge has been proposed by the city council.
It is designed to tackle the growing problem of food poverty and will distribute several tonnes of “unused and donated food to voluntary groups” across Cambridge.
The city council has pledged £144,000 in its upcoming budget to fund and set up the hub.
On Tuesday, December 7, homelessness charity Crisis warned that families in Cambridge are being forced to give up food shopping to cover rent, as a result of a shortfall in housing benefit.
And some parents are believed to be going hungry so that they can feed their children.
City council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert told the Cambridge Independent that the proposal was the authority’s “biggest initiative” this year, adding: “We know that there’s significant food poverty and we know that in the north and the east of the city quite a lot of children go hungry.
“It won’t be a place where the public will go in to get food, but it will generate a significant increase in the amount of free food.”
The hub, which is subject to approval of the budget by the full council in February, will act as a distribution point for a range of projects across the city.
An undisclosed site in north Cambridge is being explored as a location for it.
The aim is to repurpose food from supermarkets, farms, restaurants and cafés.
The hub will also serve a network of ‘community fridges’ in the city, one of which currently operates from the Edge Café in Mill Road.
Cllr Alex Collis, lead councillor for the city’s anti-poverty efforts, proposed the action plan at a city council meeting in October.
She told the Cambridge Independent: “It’s really important that we back up what we say we’re going to do with some action. At the moment we have lots of smaller organisations doing some fantastic stuff, but they are very limited in capacity.”
Cllr Collis, who used to volunteer for FoodCycle, said: “We grew a lot in four years from one project to three, partly because there was such a need and food poverty is on the increase, but it’s quite hard to grow the capacity at the same time.
“We were feeding a lot more people – it could be up to 120 people a week on a particularly busy week – but it’s completely volunteer-run and FoodCycle doesn’t have their own premises. We’d be offered fairly significant amounts of good food, like fresh veg, but we just couldn’t take it because we had nowhere to keep it.
“The food hub as a central collection point would increase that capacity.”
Cllr Collis said food poverty was a significant problem.
“We have a very wide range of families needing support who aren’t able to make ends meet. The first thing that they sacrifice is food for the adults.
“What I’ve noticed at FoodCycle is the scale of the problem has grown but the range of people needing support has as well. It’s not the people that you might assume it is. It’s people that are in work – often both parents are working.”
The data released by Crisis showed that families are being forced to cut shopping money to cover rent, as a result of a shortfall in housing benefit.
In Cambridge, the average weekly rent of the cheapest third of two-bedroom properties is £189.86 compared to the average housing benefit of £153.79, leaving a shortfall of £36.07. This equates to a small family having to give up 61 per cent of their grocery bill so they can cover the rent, based on the average grocery shop of £59, Crisis said.
Cambridge City Food Bank has reported a rise in demand for its services. It gave out 8,766 three-day emergency food parcels in 2018, up 36 per centon the year before.
The hub idea came as a result of an action plan, which had cross-party support from the city council’s Labour and Liberal Democrat groups, and from the Cambridge Food Poverty Alliance.
Led by Cambridge Sustainable Food, the alliance includes the council, Cambridge City Foodbank, FoodCycle, CHS Group, Church of The Good Shepherd, Cambridge Community Ethnic Forum and Cambridge United Charitable Trust.
The action plan for 2020-23 includes strategies such as trialling stalls that accept food vouchers in community centres, running cookery workshops, improving community outreach, lobbying for companies to pay the living wage and getting better information on the scale of the issue and provision available.
In the last financial year, 2,737 free meals were given out as part of a holiday lunches programme and 51 cookery skills sessions were attended by 271 people.
Cllr Collis said the hub will help existing redistribution schemes succeed.
“Businesses need areliable scheme to make sure that food is collected and redistributed. If a small charity is doing that on an ad-hoc basis it isn’t what big business needs,” she said. “We’re in an agricultural county and I know from running a food waste business there are huge amounts of vegetables particularly that go to waste. That doesn’t need to happen. At least some of it can be repurposed.”
The £144,000 cost included £100,000 to fit out the building and £44,000 for a start-up cost.
A further £19,000 a year for the next four years is also being proposed to support ongoing revenue costs.
More by this authorGemma Gardner